From Start-Up to Shark Tank: How Ka-Pop! Found Major Growth & Success

Ka-Pop! is Ancient InGRAINed’s successful line of savory snacks that is designed to put the fun back in healthy snacking through honest ingredients and really great packaging. The brand has skyrocketed from a Colorado start-up to TV’s national spotlight on ABC’s “Shark Tank”, which will showcase Ka-Pop!’s founder Dustin Finkel on January 19th, 2020.

The brand started in Colorado in 2017 when self-proclaimed health and fitness junkie, Dustin Finkel, noticed a big void in the snacking segment. He was looking for an authentic, healthy, and wholesome snack that delivered a great taste but with clean ingredients. When he couldn’t find one, he set out to make his own, and that’s how Ka-Pop! was born. Ka-Pop! is made from the ancient grain sorghum and contains none of the top allergens like gluten, dairy, and soy. 

Developing a Winning Package

From the start, Finkel knew that having the right packaging for his new snack line was critical. It had to have the right quality, the right feel, and also deliver the right look to fulfill his goal of bringing a delicious and fun product to the healthy snack segment. 

“Packaging is the number one marketing vehicle for your brand. People make decisions based on packaging. We wanted to find a packaging solution that would allow the brand to grow as a company. We knew that the packaging would change and we needed to work with people who were flexible,” says Finkel.

On the quest for the right packaging supplier, in the Fall of 2017, Finkel met Dustin Steerman from ePac just as ePac was opening its doors in Boulder, CO, which was close to Ka-Pop!’s headquarters in Erie, CO. At the time, Ka-Pop! was in the proof-of-concept stage. Through ePac’s unique digital printing platform, the company was able to create prototypes of the packaging for Ka-Pop! so that the brand could see the design as a physical printout before going full scale.

“We allowed them to get onto retail shelves fast with our digital platform. As a small, start-up brand competing on shelf with big brands, Ka-Pop! did not have to sacrifice anything for the sake of cost. With digital printing, they could affordably produce a superior package, with better aesthetics, and a print quality that exceeds conventional printing,” says Dustin Steerman, VP of Sales, ePac.

From the start, it was clear that ePac and Ka-Pop! were a perfect match. ePac was able to support Ka-Pop! through their innovation journey including the very successful online launch of their 1-ounce bags and adding high quality printing to the serious taste appeal of their latest flavor Red & Green Sriracha. 

Ka-Pop!’s new flavor, Red & Green Sriracha, in their 1-ounce and 3-ounce bags.

Today, Ka-Pop! is sold in high-quality, custom-printed 1-ounce and 3-ounce bags from ePac. The company uses a matte film with metallic layers to create spot gloss that allows the branding and design surrounding the brand logo to “pop” off the bag. Digital printing allows the brand to create different designs for each SKU, unique graphics to set the brand apart, and the flexibility to make changes to the package as needed.

“We’ve worked with different film thicknesses and have had five significant packaging changes since April 2018. That would be very hard to do with a traditional printer,” says Finkel.

Ka-Pop!’s new 1-oz bags.

Since first launching the brand in 2018, Ka-Pop! has experienced considerable and steady growth with the brand getting into a couple hundred independent retailers and a handful of the bigger retailers and natural food stores in the area by summer 2018. By the end of 2018, the brand was already in 500 stores.

From Start-Up to National Attention

As the brand took off, Finkel noticed that Ka-Pop! was developing a strong and passionate fan base. 

“People really resonated with the brand…. the brand came to life through the packaging,” says Finkel.

As its popularity (and sales) grew, some pretty big things started to happen for the small brand. A big break came in Spring of 2019 when the brand was chosen for the Springboard Incubator Program, part of the Kraft Heinz Company. According to the Springboard website, the program was created to turn start-ups with disruptive products into thriving companies in the food and beverage space. Through the program, Ka-Pop! had access to tools and resources like education, collaboration, and funding to really grow the brand.

And that’s exactly what the Ka-Pop! team did, growing the brand 238% from 2018 to 2019. Today, Ka-Pop! is sold in 1,500 stores in different regions of the U.S, as well as nationally online through the brand website and Amazon. Finkel is hoping for at least another 100% growth in 2020, which shouldn’t be too difficult in light of the next big break the company received when it was chosen to be on ABC’s popular show, Shark Tank, the business-deal reality show.  

“We have a very impressive track record of being chosen for unique partnerships. The reason we were chosen for the Kraft Heinz Springboard Incubator Program is the same reason we got onto Shark Tank: We are a very outgoing brand, we put our best foot forward, and are deeply convicted about our mission,” says Finkel.

And being chosen for Shark Tank is no easy feat. Some 40,000 brands apply every year with less than 100 airing on the national show. And once chosen, the work doesn’t end there. In light of the news, Finkel says that the whole team is gearing up for the show, and for the anticipated sales spike that will likely happen after the airing. In fact, this month (January) is shaping up to be Ka-Pop!’s biggest month in sales ever. With over 3 million households likely to tune in for the show, the brand has been preparing for more online sales than ever, and its retailers are stocking up product in anticipation of the sales spike. 

Photo courtesy of Ka-Pop! 

Ka-Pop! found out in December that the brand would be on the show in January, so the team had merely weeks to prepare to not only be on national television, but also ramp up production. But ePac was there for Ka-Pop!, and stepped up to meet the tight deadlines and short turnaround time to be sure that the brand had the inventory on hand to meet the anticipated demand. 

“As Ka-Pop!’s partner, we can move as quickly and nimbly as they need us to. This was a struggle for Dustin in the past with prior brands he led, but with digital printing, we can react fast and be flexible to accommodate customer needs,” says Steerman. 

There is definitely some stress surrounding the opportunity, but mostly everyone is just excited for the exposure, and sales growth. Ka-Pop! knows what a big deal this means for a small Colorado brand like themselves.

The Ka-Pop! team built hundreds and hundreds of boxes for their product to ship out to retailers.

“We built a production forecast and had to revise our order to ePac for roughly five times more than what we originally would order. But ePac just started running with it, there were no issues. Next week we’re going into our largest production week ever,” says Finkel.

Generally, it can be difficult for suppliers to accommodate a change in demand and an increase in orders for spur-of-the-moment demand changes. But ePac’s digital platform is perfectly suited to expedite the process to meet the new demand, since there are never any plates.

“With ePac it’s a true partnership. We push each other hard; we work together to create great branding and great packaging. With ePac, we’ve created what we wish we had with every partner,” says Finkel. 

Tune in to ABC on Sunday, January 19th at 9:00 pm ET to watch Ka-Pop! on Shark Tank!